Monaco Grand Prix: Technical preview

This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix provides both the teams and drivers with a special challenge – not only is the street circuit extremely difficult to master with the close walls and narrow track, but qualifying is largely indicative of the race result, especially if conditions remain dry.

Added to this, they will have to deal with a new tyre compound, the HyperSoft, which has only been run in Barcelona, a track very much unsuited for this compound, during testing.

Downforce vs Drag

This is one of the few tracks on the calendar where maximum downforce is bolted on to the cars, regardless of the greater drag that results. Indeed, such is the lack of straights that Raikkonen did not even use eight gear during his 2017 pole position lap.

Last year, this race saw a host of developments to the T-wings, and given they are still permitted lower down in 2018, the same could be the case this weekend.

Car Strengths Needed

Aerodynamic performance is of lower importance than normal around this slow-speed circuit, although those cars favouring a more aggressive Aero philosophy, such as Red Bull and McLaren with their high rake set-ups, are likely to gain relative to competitors.

However, as Force India have displayed in recent years, the key to being competitive here is good mechanical grip and tyre management, the latter referring to temperatures more than wear or degradation.

It is also important to have a good car over the bumps, of which they are many around Monte Carlo – keeping the car in contact with the ground for as much of the lap as possible minimises performance losses.

Key Corners

It is hard to pick out a single corner in Monaco that is particularly important since many turns form sequences that are very demanding. One of these is from Turns 12 – 16, known as the Tabac-Swimming Pool section.

This, together with the Casino area, is the highest speed part of the circuit and requires bravery, downforce and strong braking into T15. Turn 19 is also critical to ensure a good exit on to the DRS-assisted straight, permitting any slim chance of an overtaking opportunity.

Tyres and Strategy

Monaco sees the race debut of the pink-walled HyperSoft tyre, reckoned to be in the region of one second per lap faster than any other in the Pirelli range.

The drivers have been particularly complimentary about it, labelling it the best tyre that the Italian manufacturer has produced since its return to the sport in 2011. This should, therefore, mean high peak performance, together with decent wear/degradation traits.

Last year, the race was an easy one-stop affair, although some midfield runners took advantage of the safety car to make a late second visit to the pits. However, in 2017, the UltraSoft and SuperSoft were used in the race, corresponding to this year’s SuperSoft and Soft, the latter not featuring in this year’s selection.

Therefore, it may not be as easy a one-stop as previously, especially with the performance of the HyperSoft most likely preventing teams from qualifying on the UltraSoft in Q2.

Given that nobody wants to make a second stop and lose track position, the key will be to maximise the time spent on the HyperSoft in the first stint, which may require driving multiple seconds slower than is possible, in order to pit and return to the track in clean air.

It will be interesting to see if lower runners decide to start on the UltraSoft and then switch to the HyperSoft under an early safety car, before gambling on stretching the tyres to the end of the race.

Interestingly, Red Bull, Renault and Williams have all chosen eleven sets of the HyperSoft, meaning that they will run on this tyre exclusively (excluding installation laps perhaps) during practice and qualifying, and therefore will not sample the UltraSoft, the likely race tyre, before Sunday.

This is an aggressive strategy, but one which places maximum emphasis on qualifying and gives the driver fewer variables to factor in over the course of the weekend.

Overtaking/DRS

Overtaking is notoriously difficult around Monaco, especially with the arrival of the 20cm wider cars for 2017. That said, if cars are out of position, such as Perez last year, they can make forward progress – the Mexican made moves stick at Saint Devote and the Lowes hairpin, as well as attempting a pass on Kvyat into Rascasse.

Weather

Unfortunately for race prospects, the weather is set to remain dry on Sunday and indeed, throughout the weekend, meaning grid position will be everything. This will give teams good data on the HyperSoft during Thursday’s practice sessions.

Winds will remain low, preventing the gusting effect seen between the barriers in Baku, which caused Hülkenberg’s crash and Hamilton’s major lock-up.

Form Guide

It is often said that the last sector at Barcelona provides a good indicator for Monaco performance and this is true to some extent. This would suggest that Red Bull and Mercedes will be closely matched, with Ferrari a little behind.

The world champions have made progress on their slow-speed weaknesses, displaying strong pace in the final sector in Abu Dhabi last year as well, while Ferrari’s in-built advantage from 2017 no longer holds owing to its change in Aerodynamic concept.

It should be remembered, however, that Mercedes were three and five tenths faster in the final sector at Barcelona in qualifying and the race in 2017, yet struggled in Monaco – this year, they were evenly matched with Red Bull.

This author suggested that Ferrari would bring a higher downforce rear wing to Barcelona, but this will in fact come for Monaco, with the Scuderia testing a very aggressive design in the post-Spain test.

The midfield will remain tight, with the Renault-powered teams likely to be relatively more competitive, while street track specialists Force India should be in the mix.